Our next stop was at Essex Farm where, in May 1915, John McCrae wrote the poem, In Flanders Fields. I had been asked by EF to read the poem to the group (not at the Vimy ceremony as some people thought...) After our historian Dr. Bird provided background information, I spoke about the impact the poem has provided for over 100 years. Not just in Canada, but around the world. I then asked the group to join me in reciting the poem - everyone joined in and it was a very special moment that brought 40+ teachers from across the country - together, as one in remembering this iconic poem. Afterward, I provided poppy seeds for everyone, so they can take this experience home and have it "grow" in their hearts and homes.
Langemark German Cemetery was the site in, 1915, of the first use of poisonous gas. We actually stood in the area where the gas was released by the Germans and could see the farm buildings in the background a few hundred metres away where the Allied troops were exposed to this weapon. Very ironic that we are just one week removed from the most recent use of gas - this time on civilians in Syria. One of my photos shows a sign of the different instances of gas used as weapons around the world since 1915. Sadly, an addition will be made to this sign in the near future. Note the dark tombstones and tree coverage - not very dark now without leaves on the trees, but it must be very dark during the summer. This was done on purpose... the Belgians were not happy having to provide cemetery space for the Germans and therefore the area contains several multi graves, 3-4 soldiers on each marker. Some areas have thousands... the lettering on the gravestones is quite dark as well. Compared to the Commonwealth cemeteries that have white headstones and open spaces - its quite a stunning difference.
The Brooding Soldier at St. Juliann is my favourite memorial. As you approach from a distance, you can see this tall, slender figure bowing his head... all alone, as many of the soldiers must have felt as their young lives ebbed away.
Tyne Cot Cemetery is the largest Commonwealth war cemetery in the world in terms of burials 11,961 Commonwealth servicemen of the First World War buried or commemorated here. 8,373 are unidentified. Note the bright open spaces and white markers - very different than the German cemetery.
Well, that was day one and a busy one at that. Really looking forward to some sleep as the bits I managed on the airplane are not enough when we have been on the go for more than 34 hours!!!